Manufacturing was the "top performer" for a still below-par Northern Ireland economy last month, a bellweather survey said today.
The Ulster Bank's purchasing managers' index (PMI) said production lines in the province helped to contribute to an improved showing in July.
While an economic slump of nearly five years' duration continued, a drop-off in new orders was the least steep in eight months.
The seasonally adjusted business activity index rose from 43.6 to 47.6 in July - an improvement, but still below the 50 level separating growth from contraction. Indeed, Northern Ireland's PMI has not been above 50 in nearly five years.
The PMI said three sectors - construction, retail and services - declined as new orders remained thin on the ground.
Respondents to the survey, which covers small, medium and large companies, pointed to "demand weakness" and the "uncertain economic outlook".
But manufacturing steadied, with Richard Ramsey describing the sector as the index's "top performer".
Bombardier, the biggest manufacturer in Northern Ireland, announced orders worth £80m for its CSeries planes at the Farnborough Airshow last month.
Mr Ramsey said: "Manufacturing output stopped falling in July for the first time in 2012, following the rapid growth in quarter four of 2011. Meanwhile manufacturing new orders were also on the rise again for the first time in seven months."
Mr Ramsey warned the good times in manufacturing would not go on forever.
"Northern Ireland will not be immune from the global manufacturing downturn that is gathering pace," he said. "Therefore sustaining this recent rise in output and orders is unlikely."
Northern Ireland continued to lag behind the rest of the UK. Services and construction were slower and companies here were reporting job losses, while companies elsewhere in the UK reported rising employment.
The international picture was also bleak.
"Global manufacturing output fell for the second successive month in July and in the process posted its lowest reading since May 2009," Mr Ramsey said.